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Nick Cafardo | On baseball

Hansen's journey finally ends safely

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / June 15, 2008

CINCINNATI - There have been so many times and so many situations when you thought Craig Hansen just wasn't going to make it.

Of all the great draft picks the Red Sox have had in the first round there was a sense that Hansen, the 26th player taken in the first round in 2005, was going to be El Busto.

But wait a minute.

Not so fast.

When you look at his young career, there isn't another guy who has had to reinvent himself so often. There isn't a guy who has come in with this much fanfare, who was being touted as the Red Sox closer even before Jonathan Papelbon ever thought of assuming that role. To go from that, to nearly traded, to nearly buried in the Sox system, to yesterday when he earned his first major league save in the 6-4 Red Sox victory in his 59th major league game, there was finally a sense of arrival.

All you can say is, when he got Brandon Phillips to fly out to right in the 10th inning and J.D. Drew trotted in to hand Hansen the ball, the hard work had finally paid off.

Hansen, like everyone else, never thought it would have taken this long for his first save.

"In reality, no," said Hansen. "It was well worth the wait.

"I'd say my first save, at this point in my career, I deserve it more than when I first came up. I've had to make a lot of adjustments. I made the big adjustment to basically change the pitcher that I was. I had to reevaluate myself and go back to the beginning again, adjust myself basically by myself with my mechanics and the way I threw. That's where I'm at right now. Jason Varitek and John Farrell have really helped me out."

Oh, it wasn't the cleanest of saves or under the best of circumstances. It happened because Papelbon blew a save when he surrendered an Edwin Encarnacion homer in the bottom of the ninth with two outs on a 2-and-2 count. Yes, the old one-strike-away routine. Papelbon said he didn't execute his splitter and left it hanging like a glider in the strike zone. And Encarnacion deposited it on a line into the left-field bleachers.

"I could have used the Green Monster today," Papelbon said afterward.

Papelbon's misery brought about Hansen's euphoria.

Hansen was in the bathroom while Papelbon was blowing the save and told he was going to come into the game in the 10th. That's how much confidence Hansen and everyone has in Papelbon finishing off the game.

"That's pretty much the way everyone thinks," said Hansen of Papelbon in a save situation. "He's a dominant closer. He's proven himself over the years. He's got the stuff. Every now and then every player has a hiccup. That whole inning he battled and he did his job."

The former stud at St. John's got two quick outs in the 10th before Jolbert Cabrera singled up the middle. He advanced to second base and then to third base on defensive indifference before Ken Griffey Jr. walked.

Mike Lowell trotted over. That was followed by a visit from pitching coach John Farrell.

"There were some pitches that I overthrew," Hansen said. "Lowell came over and said, 'You've got great stuff and go right after these guys.' And then Farrell said throw it through the glove and get us back into the dugout."

He did.

Leading up to that was an adventure. The Sox bullpen was hit or miss. After Tim Wakefield's excellent seven innings, Hideki Okajima allowed two of the first three batters to reach in the eighth. He got a quick hook for Manny Delcarmen, who allowed a first-pitch run-scoring single to Javier Valentin. He went 3-and-0 to Griffey, but then he threw an inside fastball that jammed Griffey who knocked into a double play to end the inning and preserve a 4-3 lead.

"I just decided to get a fastball in, and if walk him, I walk him," said Delcarmen. "If that happened, I'd still have the bases loaded for the force."

Papelbon got two groundouts and then went to 2-and-2 to Encarnacion.

Yet Papelbon said he was happy for Hansen.

"I told him after the game, 'Way to pick me up!' He came into a situation, where you know, willed himself to keep that win for our ballclub," Papelbon said.

Hansen, who said he didn't have a good feel for his slider yesterday, said he had no inkling that it was his first save. He said he didn't know until he was walking off, yet his heart was in his throat because he understands there's not a lot of room in Great American Ballpark.

At the crack of the bat, he heard the crowd yelling as if Phillips had hit out.

"It was a pop up - which everyone else in the stands thought was a home run," he said.

No worries. It ended the way so many people who scouted and followed him thought he would end most of his appearances - with a save.

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